Finney then became the face of British cinema's worldwide explosion after being cast in the title role of Tom Jones, directed by The Entertainer's Tony Richardson.
Albert was born in Salford in 1936 and his acting career began when he secured a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he established himself as a theatre actor.
Comedian and novelist David Walliams remembered him simply as "the handsome Albert Finney". His breakout role came in 1963's Tom Jones, an adventure-comedy period piece that won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and became a smash at the box office.
According to a family spokesperson, the British actor died "peacefully after a short illness with those closest to him by his side". In 2001, he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work on the film Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts in the title role.
English actor David Morrissey hailed Finney as one of the greats.
Finney twice turned down official honours - a CBE in 1980 and a knighthood in 2000 - and revealed in 2011 he had overcome cancer after successful treatment.
They said: "We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Albert Finney". The decade would also see him getting musical again as Daddy Warbucks in an adaptation of Annie. His marriage to Jane Denham lasted from 1957 to 1961 and Wednesday Anouk Aimeé in 1970.
He also produced several projects (albeit uncredited), and he directed two movies, but his net worth is surprisingly low for someone with such a long and successful career. He won for outstanding supporting actor for Erin Brockovich, and he joined his Traffic co-stars in winning for outstanding performance by a cast.
However, he's never been one to take such awards too seriously, and would rarely attend the ceremonies.
Emmys: Outstanding lead actor for The Gathering Storm.
Finney is survived by his son Simon, who he had with his first wife Jane Wenham, and his wife Pene Delmage, who he married in 2006 and lived in London with until his death.
Finney's funeral will be held in private.